Changing the Landscape of Normal

Changing the Landscape of Normal

Most marriages start from a position of equality. Both partners are expected to “pull their weight” and contribute equally to the relationship. I can’t think of anyone who wants to build a partnership of lopsided responsibilities. Over time, with illness and age, a vast discrepancy between one person’s contribution and the others can develop, though, and the reality of one person taking on more in the relationship than the other is likely the longer the two are together.

That’s the norm. That’s the expectation. We start out young, healthy and happy and we grow old, or sick together, the stronger caring for the weaker depending upon what ails us.

My marriage never started this way from the beginning though, and with one in four American suffering from a mental illness and half of Americans suffering from a chronic disease, the landscape of what is normal, or expected is changing.

In my house, we concern ourselves every day with medication times and the amount of food to be eaten with each dose. We live around making sure doses are not missed, and that food is available. We go to the doctor every few months for blood draws and check-ups and visit the pharmacy to refill medications once a month. Those are the most visible signs of illness in our house, but they are not the most difficult, or challenging.

It is the panic attacks that can derail brunch with friends, or cause a cancellation of a six-month planned vacation that is harder to live with than the daily maintenance. The most terrifying and difficult thing though is the possibility of a break from reality. There are no classes or preparation for a spouse that has an episode of psychosis that can be brought on by trauma, addiction, bipolar disorder, or in my case, schizophrenia.

My husband would be more than uncomfortable with the label of caretaker. That title just doesn’t suit him when it comes to our relationship and the reality of us. My husband has the chronic illness sarcoidosis, and when he gets sick (which is frequently) I am the one who makes him honey and lemon tea, checks his temperature and calls the on-call nurse to see if we should go to the doctor, etc. I  am also the one who cheers him on when he gets a promotion or award at work. I am his biggest fan and the number one person who looks out for him.

My husband has a more significant role in the caretaking arena than I do, but the reality is we care for each other. His illness is more easily understood than mine, and the symptoms are more socially acceptable (he doesn’t hear voices, or believe he is talking to God). But if social media is an indicator on how far we have come to overcome stigmas and fixed notions of relationships that are a carryover from the past, then we have made progress. Not a single day goes by when I don’t read about someone struggling with anxiety, autism, mania, depression, or hallucinations on social media. There is some truth to the fact that otherwise private experiences are now put out in public for all to consume.

With so many Americans dealing with physical and mental health issues, the landscape of partnership, spouses, marriage is changing. What was once said by most couples getting married, a vow to care for each other in sickness and in health, is now more of the given than a promise we make to each other.

 

 

 

Changing the Landscape of Normal

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Most marriages start from a position of equality. Both partners are expected to “pull their weight” and contribute equally to the relationship. I can’t think of anyone who wants to build a partnership of lopsided responsibilities. Over time, with illness and age, a vast discrepancy between one person’s contribution and the others can develop, though, and the reality of one person taking on more in the relationship than the other is likely the longer the two are together.
That’s the norm. That’s the expectation. We start out young, healthy and happy and we grow old, or sick together, the stronger caring for the weaker depending upon what ails us.
My marriage never started this way from the beginning though, and with one in four American suffering from a mental illness and half of Americans suffering from a chronic disease, the landscape of what is normal, or expected is changing.
In my house, we concern ourselves every day with medication times and the amount of food eaten with each dose. We live around these details. We go to the doctor every few months for blood draws and check-ups and visit the pharmacy to refill medications once a month. Those are the most visible signs of illness in our house, but they are not the most difficult, or challenging.
It is the panic attacks that can derail brunch with friends, or cause a cancellation of a six-month planned vacation that is harder to live with than the daily maintenance. The most terrifying and difficult thing though is the possibility of a break from reality. There are no classes or preparation for a spouse that has an episode of psychosis that can be brought on by trauma, addiction, bipolar disorder, or in my case, schizophrenia.
My husband would be more than uncomfortable with the label of caretaker. That title just doesn’t suit him when it comes to our relationship and the reality of us. My husband has the chronic illness sarcoidosis, and when he gets sick (which is frequently) I am the one who makes him honey and lemon tea, checks his temperature and calls the on-call nurse to see if we should go to the doctor, etc. I  am also the one who cheers him on when he gets a promotion or award at work. I am his biggest fan and the number one person who looks out for him.
My husband has a more significant role in the caretaking arena than I do, but the reality is we care for each other. His illness is more easily understood than mine, and the symptoms are more socially acceptable (he doesn’t hear voices, or believe he is talking to God). But if social media is an indicator on how far we have come to overcome stigmas and fixed notions of relationships that are a carryover from the past, then we have made progress. Not a single day goes by when I don’t read about someone struggling with anxiety, autism, mania, depression, or hallucinations on social media. There is some truth to the fact that otherwise private experiences are now put out in public for all to consume.
With so many Americans dealing with physical and mental health issues, the landscape of partnership, spouses, marriage is changing. What was once said by most couples getting married, a vow to care for each other in sickness and in health, is now more of the given than a promise we make to each other to be cashed in on at some distant point in the future.

Right, Wrong, Fear, Justice?

I don’t like to think about the, “What ifs” or the, “That could be me” scenarios. I like to go about my days thinking about writing, about what is for dinner, about the environment and the hundreds of other issues I care about. I don’t like to have my illness, schizophrenia, or the worst of it, brought to the forefront of my mind.

Of course, I think about the fact that I have schizophrenia every day, it is, unfortunately, a constant companion, but I have made peace with the majority of what the symptoms and their consequences look like for me.

There are those days though, those walking down the street days and encountering someone who is screaming and gesturing at someone who only they can see. Those days when the news reports that the police shot a mentally ill person who couldn’t, but they interpret as wouldn’t comply with their commands. Those days, I can’t escape the terror of what my illness does to some people.

People try to use polite terms, and I appreciate that “an unwell mind,” but the truth is a psychotic mind is a ravaged mind. Psychosis untreated is uncontrollable, unpredictable, frequently terrifying, fraught with voices, and delusions, conspiracies, both Gods, and demons.

I think I have only vocalized my greatest fear once, and that was to my husband. I like to be the person with schizophrenia who everyone says, “You can’t have a mental illness! You are so normal!” Although those statements cause me some sadness, it also makes me breathe a sigh of relief. I can pass. I can pass in stores, and streets, and restaurants, and other places I like to go to. I am a middle-aged woman with nothing remarkable going on. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Last Thursday the State of Tennessee put Billy Ray Irick to death. It isn’t the fact that his execution was botched and it appears that he was tortured to death, that makes me go to the dreaded “what ifs” and “That could be me” thoughts. It is the fact that Billy Ray was most certainly mentally ill (he spent time in a psych hospital before the rape and murder) and there is some evidence to suggest he may have been experiencing psychosis during the crime.

Here it is, this is my biggest fear: I will become psychotic and hurt someone, and then the doctors will prescribe medication, and I will become aware of what it is that I did, and have to find a way to live with it. That guilt, that knowledge, living with that scenario is worse to me than the death penalty.

To start from the beginning of this, I don’t believe in the death penalty for anyone, but giving the death penalty to a mentally ill person seems particularly barbaric. Was Billy Ray capable at the time of the crime of distinguishing between right and wrong? Did he hear voices? I’m not suggesting that there should be no punishment for the mentally ill who are dangerous (a small portion of the people who live with a diagnosis are dangerous), but I have been psychotic on many occasions, and I know that I was not responsible for the things I did. How could I be responsible when I thought I was Jesus, or talking to God, or listening to the Holy Spirit? How can a person following orders from celestial beings be in control of their actions? They can’t, and you can’t understand it unless you have experienced psychosis and then returned to clarity.

Psychiatrists and therapists and some artists like to imagine that they know what it is like to lose complete control of your mind and your actions. I suggest that they are simply imagining knowing unless they have experienced what so many who are mentally ill have experienced. If justice is receiving a guilty or not guilty verdict by a jury of your peers, then why not have those of us with firsthand knowledge hear the cases involving the mentally ill? If the lawmakers keep passing laws but never consult the people who are affected by those laws, is that fair? Is that just? How can people know what is right if they don’t know what they are dealing with in the first place?

It’s a dilemma, a situation, a crisis that needs to be solved. Lives, treatment, and ethics depend on it.

The Art of Tricking My Brain

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I have schizophrenia, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want to be successful at climbing the mountains that are there before me. I currently have myself in training for a steep climb, and chances are I will make it, but even if I don’t, I’ll be in better shape in every way than I was before I set out on this path.

 

Last night, my husband texted me that he was leaving work at 5:30 and that he would be riding his bike home. When I received the text, I pulled out our backpack cooler and started preparing a picnic. I washed some grapes, made a container full of cut cantaloupe, cut up three different kinds of cheese, packed a sleeve of crackers, and put some of the hummus my husband made in a Tupperware and added two bottles of water. When my husband walked in the door, I was ready to go. He changed his clothes, and we walked the mile to the organ pavilion in the park near our house. We sat on the steps and enjoyed the music of a funk band that was playing.
All summer long, the park near our house has free summer concerts three days a week. As we sat there, tears rolled down my face, and I said to my husband, “I finally feel like I am living my best life.”
In the last year, I have committed myself to make my life better in every way possible. I don’t sit by when things are difficult or not going well and take it. Not taking it, includes the symptoms I have from schizophrenia as well as other things that come up in life, marriage, family, etc.
My psychiatrist has told me that he can change my medications, or add additional medicine to try and clear up the remaining symptoms of schizophrenia but in every case like that, a person has to weigh the pros and the cons. One of the hardest things to deal with more medication is, of course, side effects. I feel like managing my side effects from the drugs I am currently on is a full-time job, and I don’t want to add any more requirements, suggestions, restrictions to that. It is hard enough as it is.
So, I do the best I can to overcome symptoms when they arise or to avoid any triggers that will cause them. The symptoms that cause me the most problems are anxiety, lack of motivation, and a need for increased sleep. Most days the need for increased rest doesn’t create too much of a problem because I don’t have a job I need to be at or any place I am expected to be (if I do have an appointment then it can interfere, but that doesn’t happen too frequently).
The anxiety and lack of motivation can disrupt my life though, and I am finding ways to handle those symptoms that are lessening their occurrence and hopefully getting me strong enough to work. (My dream is to make a living freelance writing, but I haven’t been able to overcome my symptoms sufficient to put in the time and effort and hustle that writing full time (or even part-time) takes).
How am I managing my symptoms better than ever? I am practicing all kinds of psychological tips and tricks to help fool my brain. I keep a gratitude list (which helps with overall perspective -things could be far worse), helps lessen anxiety and helps me focus my mind on what is going right instead of what is going wrong. I read a passage or two from the Bible every day, and I write my response to it. Many of the passages I read are hopeful and give me a sense that I am not alone, and that something more significant than me is in control (this is very comforting and helps with anxiety as well).
To trick my brain into overcoming my severe lack of motivation, I write down tasks every day that I want to complete. I rarely have in the three months I have been doing this completed all the tasks on my list, but on average I am finishing two to four of the tasks I want, and that is way better than I used to do.
Before I started trying to improve my life and lessen my symptoms, I had many days where the only thing I did was watch television and scroll through social media. In the past, I went weeks without getting out of the house. Now, I put on my task list every day, take a twenty-five-minute walk, and for the most part, I do it! Of course, the walking helps with the side effects of the medication (high sugar levels, high cholesterol, weight gain, high blood pressure, etc.) as well as elevates mood and makes panic attacks (I think) less likely.
What do I think helped push me to try so hard to create a system that helps me overcome symptoms? Like most people, I didn’t want to throw my life away, and I want to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Watching television and reading social media post left me feeling frightened, anxious, depressed, and many other negative feelings. In other words, the news and social media were hurting my chances of living my best life.

My Illness is not so Different From Your Illness

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I don’t know ninety percent of my friends on social media in real life. I can tell you that I have watched some of their children grow from birth to toddler. I have seen them adopt puppies and cats, and I have frequently read about the loss of a loved one. I don’t know most of the people on my “friend’s list,” but I would recognize them at a writer’s conference (which frequently happens) or in a workshop.
All that is to say, I read what people are posting, and I have been for years, and the level of comfort that most people toss out about anxiety and depression is amazing. It seems like the majority of people I connect with on social media have a diagnosed anxiety disorder or depressive disorder, or they have diagnosed themselves.
In the circles I am a part of it is perfectly natural and well accepted to discuss social anxiety and panic attacks, it is a little less prevalent to discuss depression, but I still see a post about it almost every day. The way people toss out these two disorders has always left me wondering if people are “claiming” them or if they are taking medication for them? If everyone who is posting about social anxiety and panic attacks or depression is being treated for those disorders then the statistics on mental illness are far from accurate – it is a crisis.
I suspect that not everyone who uses the phrase “panic attack” actually means that their heart was racing, they thought they were going to die and thought about going to the emergency room. I also suspect that not everyone who uses the word depression to describe their mood has trouble with daily activities like showering and brushing their teeth. Please, don’t get me wrong, I know that many people suffer and suffer quite silently or we wouldn’t lose famous people to suicide and drug overdoses as often as we do. I simply think that phrases and words like panic attack, depression, social anxiety are incorrectly and way overused.
The point, I want to make though, is can you ever imagine a time when people (lots of them) would casually throw out that they have schizophrenia? No, you can’t. Schizophrenia is like crossing a line. Depression is acceptable, anxiety is acceptable and isn’t that bipolar disorder the one that makes you so creative? I am so tired of reading people’s essays, and books where they say, “At least I don’t have schizophrenia.” Well, an article came out today (link here) that claims that research shows that ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia, major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders share a lot of similarities genetically.
I’ll be waiting for the day when people are also self-diagnosing themselves with schizophrenia the way I suspect some of them do with anxiety and depression, and that schizophrenia is openly talked about, acceptable, and almost the cool thing to be. If current attitudes are any indication, I will probably be waiting a long time, but still, I will be waiting.

A Diagnosis

I walk into the waiting room, check in with the receptionist who acts as if taking care of the schedule is the last thing she wants to do that day and is busy looking in a cabinet at the right side of her desk. I catch the tail end of a conversation that she is having on the phone and learn she is tearing apart her office space looking for instant coffee. I write down my name on a clipboard she pushed in my direction; without looking at me, she says, “Take a seat. Your doctor will call you.”

I walk over to a chair against the far wall and sit down. There are red and blue and yellow plastic and wooden toys scattered on the floor and table for those patients who have kids. It doesn’t smell sterile like a medical clinic, but it smells stale: no windows and no natural air ventilation. Old issues of People, Woman’s Day, and Outdoor Magazine are on a table next to my chair.

The door to the doctors’ offices is locked, and from this side, the one I am on, someone must buzz me in. Doctor safety. That locked door reminds me that I am sitting in the space of the unpredictable, the unruly, the unsafe, the dangerous and we must have a locked door between them and us. I am them. I have been them since I was in my twenties, and before that, I passed as us. Us, what? I don’t know. Us not crazy I guess. My mind wanders back to a few years ago when I was at the midnight service on Christmas Eve.

The pastor of the church I attended was well connected and very powerful politically in our community, and he was loved by the congregation. Before and after each of his sermons, all the congregants vied for his attention. That night, while I was sitting in the balcony with my family on my favorite Christian holiday of the year, I listened as he read out the community events. He announced a rummage sale in January; a potluck put on by the Methodist Women’s Group. Bible study, and so on. Then as he was finishing up, he told a joke, “What songs do those who are bipolar sing at Christmas?” I didn’t hear his answer because I was fighting back the tears. “What songs do the schizophrenics sing at Christmas? Do You Hear What I Hear?” He went on, but the rest of the service was a blur to me. I can’t quite accept that the pastor of the largest church in town where we were living made fun of the mentally ill.

The psychiatrist, Katie, comes through the door and motions me in. I step into her small office and take the chair near the large window that takes up most of the back wall. She says, “Just one minute.” She leaves me sitting there to take in her workspace. There are no pictures of children or partners – a scarcity of personal items I have come to expect from therapists’ and psychiatrists’ offices – at least those who keep up good boundaries with their clients. Katie has mentioned being married but never mentioned children although she is more than visibly pregnant at least seven months. She walks back in and says, “I have bad news.” My mind floats away for a moment:

It could be any night of the week in any city or town in the United States. The television is on; it’s the nightly news. Text scrolls across the screen, BREAKING NEWS. There has been another shooting, and before any information is confirmed the anchor starts to speculate about the shooter’s mental health. They may not say it now, but during the evening, someone will say the words mentally ill. You could bet your paycheck on it. The only way this scenario gets avoided is if the shooter is from the Middle East. In that case, people will still speculate about mental health, but there will be more of a focus on terrorism. Every mass shooting is terrorism, like it or not. But it’s not all mental illness. It rarely is.

The pause is over, but before she says what the bad news is, she begins questioning me about my history. “When were you diagnosed, bipolar?” Katie asks. “When I was twenty-eight,” I say. “You are how old now?” she asks. “I am forty-one.” “Well, that is a long time to live with an incorrect diagnosis. At first, we thought you had schizoaffective disorder, but you don’t, you have paranoid schizophrenia. I’m sorry.” And that is it. That is the end of our session. I say thank you, although I’m not sure that is appropriate. I say I’ll make an appointment in a few weeks. She stands up, reaches for the doorknob, and walks me to the locked door, but when I am on this side, it easily opens. It is that other side, to which I am returning to with this new information that has me worried.

While I pass the waiting room, my mind races about all of the years I read about the famous people with bipolar disorder. All the years I believed my mental illness was tied to heightened creativity. All the things I have read about the successful people living with the same diagnosis as me. Bipolar was a part of my identity. I related to it. I owned it. I accepted it. I shared it with close friends. After the pastor told his jokes in church, I even went up to him after we sang Silent Night in the courtyard holding candles and said, “Your joke about the mentally ill; I have bipolar disorder. If the statistics are correct, I am not the only one in the church who has it. If we aren’t welcome here, where are we welcome?” He stared at me and gave me a smile that came across not as an “I’m sorry” it was more like pure pity.

I step outside into the Southern California sunlight. Today, like most days, it is bright. I leave the building. This psychiatric clinic I was in, is well hidden. It is at the end of a dead-end street; five blocks over is the hospital, two blocks in one direction and three in another is my primary care physician’s office. I had walked to Katie’s office, and I would walk home. I could call my husband, but I don’t know how to tell him that what we have lived through one month ago that had lasted six months is due to paranoid schizophrenia and not bipolar disorder. We are new to this city. We have no family and no friends here. Before we moved, we had a whole network of people who we could call, count on, talk to, drink with, hike with, play racquetball with, have lunch with – here it is the two of us. Who can we tell that bipolar has left our lives and paranoid schizophrenia has taken its place?

As I continue to walk toward home I think about my years as a social worker; I know that most of the people who are talking to voices only they can hear, and people only they can see, have schizophrenia. So many people living on the street, dirty, hungry, shelterless, we have more in common than our humanity; we have the same illness. The very thing that probably drove them to the streets is eating at me as well. But then there is Nash, the guy in A Beautiful Mind who won a Nobel Prize and had schizophrenia.

As I walk past the houses, I hardly notice my favorite colors in California; the bright pinks, the dark purple of the bougainvillea. My favorite fragrance, jasmine, fills the air. I have at least a mile more to go before reaching our apartment. Now I know why I heard the voices: God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Now I know why I thought I was a healer and baked three cakes a day for over a month and gave them to the neighbors every afternoon,  the hallways smelling like a bakery. I was once told I had bipolar disorder with psychotic features. The psychotic features part seemed frightening, but I had lived twelve years with the bipolar part. I understood it. As I continue walking, I pass the 7-11 where the homeless men and women hang out. “A thin line between you and me,” I say out loud.

As I continue to walk I think of all the books I have read by parents with a mentally ill child, and so many of them say the same thing, “At least they don’t have the dreaded schizophrenia.” I went to a writer’s conference, and the panelists were discussing creating character that had a “different” view of reality. One woman on the panel had bipolar disorder, and she said, “At least I don’t have schizophrenia!” Her comment was so out of place, no one was questioning her, or accusing her, or even addressing her, but I guess she wanted us to know there is something worse than bipolar, there is, of course, schizophrenia.

I walk into the lobby of our apartment building; the apartment manager is there. We say hi to each other, and she talks to me as I pass her and go left toward our door. Once inside, I sit on the couch. How do you tell the man who recently spent six months with a psychotic wife, and who feels as if he just got his old wife, the one he has been married to for almost ten years, back? I look at the clock. My husband will be home any minute, and as always, I won’t keep anything from him. I plan on telling him as soon as possible. Shortly after, I hear the keys jingle in the lock and in walks my tired, worn out, but grateful to have his wife back, husband. Before he can even take his light jacket off, I say, “I saw the psychiatrist today. She said I have paranoid schizophrenia.” “What does that even mean?” he asks.

I wish I could tell him what I will learn later, that one percent of the world’s population has schizophrenia. In the United States, that is approximately three and a half million people. It is the leading cause of disability. The Treatment Advocacy Center reports that half of the people shot and killed by police have a mental illness. Mentally ill people fill our streets and jails. Schizophrenia is the most widely stigmatized and misunderstood of all the mental illnesses.

I stand up from the couch. I cross the space between my husband and me, and we hug each other. We hold on to each other tighter than we ever have. Something new and scary and unpredictable has entered our lives, and we feel lost in our new city, with my new diagnosis. I cry, “If it wasn’t for you, I could be any of those people on the street right now!” “I’ll find you,” he says. “I’ll always find you, and when I do, I’ll wait for you to come back to me. I know you will always come back to me.” I let out a sob, and he says, “One diagnosis or the other, you are the same woman who kissed me goodbye as I left for work this morning. Nothing but the name of your illness has changed. Don’t cry and don’t worry; we have lived with this for years. What is the difference? It’s only a name.”

 

 

 

 

Bridging the Divide

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The past two years have been surreal. I feel like reality is fluid. Reality used to be full of hard facts, things we could easily prove. Now, people we are supposed to trust throw conspiracy theories and “alternative facts” around regularly. Our country is changing at such a dizzying speed, and much of it is shocking, and some of it is alarming. One thing is for sure, as a group, as citizens, as a nation we are divided, and those divisions are causing people to feel hostile and angry. It is as though everyone is on the verge of snapping.
I discovered something, possibly one of the few things I can do to bring generosity, kindness, concern, love, goodness, friendliness, and all the positive things we can feel between two people back and that is to go small. I thought about it during breakfast this morning.
My husband and I had breakfast at a local hotel.  When we arrived, the whole room was loud, and every table was full. People were cutting in the buffet line, talking on video conferencing, having to raise their voices to hear their table mates. We learned from our server that ninety people eating in the restaurant were a part of a tour group. The people on tour were on a time limit, so it is easy to understand why they were in a hurry, not waiting in line, etc. but the impact this had on the servers as this person and that person asked for water, or coffee was noticeable.
Every time our server went by, we asked if she was okay. We told her it looked very stressful. We thanked her for everything she brought us and said we hoped her day started to look up. It was evident that our concern for her was going a long way because she made sure to come back to our table frequently to ask if we needed anything, or wanted anything.
My husband and I said working at a buffet when a large group comes in must be very hard. We didn’t see a single person tip their servers. We know from being on tours that the head of the tour should leave a big tip for all the servers to share, but there is no guarantee that that is the custom everywhere.
We decided to leave our server a larger than usual (about double) tip to make up for all the running around she had to do and for putting up with chaos with a smile on her face. When she received our tip, she was so grateful.
As we walked along the waterfront after our breakfast, I told my husband that the only thing I can think of to help out people right now is to go small – make every interaction, every conversation, every greeting, every time I talk or see another person an opportunity to show love and kindness. The only hope I see for rebuilding our relationships and communities and crossing this vast angry divide is to go small and take it one person at a time.

I know we can be the friendly and generous people we have a reputation of being if we heal each other one interaction at a time.
I’m going small, and hoping others will join me and that it can make all the difference.

Mental Illness (Brain Diseases) in the News

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Over the past two weeks, the public learned of three celebrities who are, or were, living with bipolar disorder, and rather than the media using this as the perfect time to educate people about mental illness, the cause of it, the symptoms of it, the available treatment options, many people fell back on stigma.
Many people questioned how Kate Spade could be so selfish as to take her life when she would be leaving behind a daughter, and I read a lot of misunderstanding about her “having everything.” These statements assume that Kate Spade was in her “right mind.”
Depression is not only the thief of joy it is a liar. Depression tells many people that their loved ones would be better off without them. Depression is more than just a feeling that a jog, trip to the spa, or a lunch with friends, can help someone overcome. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is not weakness, just like schizophrenia, it is a brain disease.
I heard a report that Kate had been self-medicating with alcohol for some years and that she didn’t feel like she could get help because of the impact that attention would have on her brand. That is the stigma, and it costs us the lives of people. The tragedy that ended Kate’s life might have been different if we were more educated, accepting, and open about the realities of mental illness.
On the other end of this, is Kayne West admitting that at 39 he received the diagnosis of bipolar disorder and that bipolar disorder is his superpower. I don’t know the details of Kayne’s illness, but I do know what romanticizing mental illness is and what it sounds like and that is what Kayne is doing. Having received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in my twenties, the first thing I did was to read about all the “creative geniuses” who have and had it.
I thought that my creativity was a symptom of bipolar disorder. All these years later, and with a diagnosis of schizophrenia now, I don’t believe my creativity comes from my illness. I think I would have been far more successful in this life if I didn’t have to manage and deal with a brain disease – it impacts me every day, and it is disruptive and hinders me from my full potential.
Then there was Rosanne Barr and her racist tweet. I am sorry that Roseanne Barr has bipolar disorder, I am sorry for every single person, famous, or homeless (it doesn’t matter) who has to deal with the consequences of a brain disease, but Rosanne made mental illness look like a character flaw. Being bipolar doesn’t excuse racism, and it doesn’t create it either. Bipolar disorder can hinder impulse control, cause disordered thinking, cause delusions or strange beliefs, but a diagnosis doesn’t automatically mean you will be a racist – that has to do with character and personality and isn’t a symptom I have heard of regarding any mental illness.
I don’t know everything about mental illness, statistics and my experience are all I have to form conclusions. I do know that when mental illness is in the news this much that the media rarely helps us out with educational and stigma-busting information.

 

Some New Information (to me) About Schizophrenia

I watched a show on UCSD Television about schizophrenia. (Link here  )

The professor giving the lecture was from UCLA (I think) and he was presenting his and other researcher’s findings. The two most interesting things he presented (in my opinion) were that schizophrenia is both a brain disease and on a spectrum similar to autism. The other most fascinating thing he discussed is the similarities between a brain with schizophrenia and a brain that does not have the disease (they called it a “normal” brain).

I was surprised to hear that schizophrenia is on a spectrum. I had heard that before (in fact one of the readers of this blog brought it up) but I didn’t know that it was starting to be established and accepted in the medical community. I think this is great news because it explains and helps people understand why schizophrenia looks different in different people.

The research that the doctors/scientists did on the normal brain and the brain that had schizophrenia showed them that there are several areas of a brain with schizophrenia that are severely disabled compared to a normal brain. For instance, the part that helps people determine facial expressions and the part that helps people determine social cues. But the brain with schizophrenia was a little better at one test, and the researcher said it is important to focus on the strengths of people with schizophrenia. I really appreciated that comment.

The presenter listed the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia (of which you have to have two to have the illness). Some of the things on the list were delusions, hallucinations, disordered speech, disordered thought, and I think a couple of others. I have the delusions and hallucinations but not the disordered speech, and I don’t think I have the disordered thought.

The presentation was also about symptoms of schizophrenia, for example, lack of social motivation (which I definitely have) and the CDC (Center for Disease Control) just came out with a study that being lonely or socially isolated is more problematic to your health than smoking, obesity, and several other lifestyle issues.

I have been working on trying to be healthier for several months now, and I have changed my diet, started exercising more, keeping gratitude lists, upped my productivity, etc. but it looks like I am going to have to try to join a writer’s group, or make plans to see friends more often in order to really up my overall health.

The video is worth watching but of course, the part that overwhelmed me a little was how hard people with schizophrenia have to work just to have the same quality of life as someone without the illness. And even then, most of us have things we manage but do not overcome. As Kermit, the Frog would say, “It is not easy being green.”

 

A Possible Source of Anxiety

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In the city where I live in California, we voted to ban plastic bags. The plastic bags were ending up in the Pacific Ocean, in storm drains, and on the beach, threatening wildlife and causing damage to the environment. I have been concerned about the environment and lessening my footprint on it for over thirty years (my first husband was an environmental scientist) so, I was 100% behind banning the bags.

It turns out that banning plastic bags increased the cases of Hepatitis A in our city. How are the two related? People who live on the streets and in encampments were using the plastic bags as toilets and then disposing of them. When plastic bags were no longer readily available people started eliminating on the street and in places where people walk, sit, sleep and walk their dogs.

Fecal contamination spreads hepatitis, and the best way to prevent it is to wash your hands frequently. People on the streets don’t have access to hand washing stations (they do now). So, the lack of a proper way to dispose of waste combined with no accessible hand washing stations created an epidemic in our city. It wasn’t just the lack of plastic bags that created the health risk, but it contributed to it.

Unintended consequences.

The plastic bag example is a case of unintended consequences and most of our actions, words, etc. even if well-intentioned have unintended consequences. I once warned someone about the lies and manipulation of another person, and the person I warned turned around and told the other person causing me continued problems for over three years. My desire to protect the person I gave the information to turned into an opportunity for her and her husband to hurt me and my relationship with several people. This example might sound like a small example but the stress the situation caused contributed to me being psychotic for over six months.

Unintended consequences.

They happen in our lives every day, all around us. There is no way to foresee them or to avoid them without living a completely sheltered life. As long as you are talking to people, going out in public, etc. there will always be unintended consequences.

Unintended consequences.

This reality, these possibilities, this path that we can go down without ever intending to, these ripples we can cause that can go on for miles, over mountains and for years, can create anxiety in people. I know they can create anxiety in me. Even though I have had bad results with unintended consequences, I choose to keep moving forward, but if I am more cautious, slower to make a move, more guarded don’t be surprised.

Unintended consequences can occasionally make you sick and can cause you hesitate before moving forward in case the landscape in front of you is about to burn.